One week after playing one of their best games of the season, the New England Patriots played arguably their worst: with a first-round playoff bye on the line, the team came out flat against the Miami Dolphins and ultimately fell with a final score of 27-24. It was from start to finish a disappointing performance, but one that is actually on par with other games this season. After all, New England is a terribly inconsistent team at this point in time.
Of course, one gut-punch loss does not define a club — otherwise the 2007 Patriots would not still be remembered as one of the greatest teams in NFL history despite losing the Super Bowl, or the 2018 Patriots would not have went on an outstanding postseason run that ended with a championship after suffering five regular season defeats. But 16 games into their season, it is safe to say that the 2019 Patriots jump between good and bad on a far too regular basis.
It that sense, they can be compared to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The titular heroes — attention for those of you have not yet read the play over the last 130-plus years: there are spoilers right ahead — turn out to be the same person; one good, the other inherently evil. For the Patriots not to end like Dr. Jekyll did in the story by permanently turning into the antagonistic Mr. Hyde, they need to find a way to harness their positives.
New England needs to find a way to play more consistently good football, or else their trip to the playoffs will turn into a short one. Defensive captain Devin McCourty actually touched on this after Sunday’s game: “How we played this week doesn’t have to matter next week. If we go out here and practice well, execute and go play our best game of the year next week, it won’t matter, we won’t care about this week. It’s all about how you prepare, it’s all about being ready to go and then executing out there on Sunday.”
McCourty is, of course, one of the leaders in the Patriots’ locker room and as such a voice for the approach the team is trying to take as it attempts to rebound from one of the worst regular season losses of the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick era. And just like his teammates did immediately after Sunday’s loss, he too talked about moving past the defeat and focusing on the challenges that lie ahead while trying to suppress the proverbial Mr. Hyde.
“I would say overall, we won some games here this season, we’ve done some good things and when we don’t, we lose. It’s that simple,” said McCourty. “I think we know that and it’s like anything else in life, it’s hard to go out there and execute each week but that’s the task at hand. That’s why we’re here, that’s why we get paid to play football, for that reason. We’ve got to dig deep this week, we’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror and get ready to go.”
“We always talk about prepare — prepare, be ready — but it always comes down at the end of the day is how we go out there and execute on Sunday. I think from beginning to end, we didn’t execute, we didn’t play what we... we had spurts, we had some good drives, but overall it just wasn’t a good performance today,” continued McCourty after a game that saw the league’s number one scoring defense come up short on the final drive.
Playing good football in spurts is nothing new for the Patriots. They did it last week against the Buffalo Bills, and also at times during their losses against the Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs. However, those moments are few and far between and the inconsistent nature of the team — especially on the offensive side of the ball — rears its ugly head too often for New England to stay competitive against top competition on a drive-to-drive basis.
Sunday’s loss against Miami was more of the same. The Patriots started slowly and found themselves in a 10-0 hole before bouncing back to tie the game before the half, only to see the Dolphins get back on top. New England’s offense eventually came through and put the team in a position to win but the defense ended any hopes of a victory when it surrendered a long touchdown drive that essentially sealed the deal for the visitors.
Just five days before their playoff opener against the Tennessee Titans, the Patriots therefore need to find a way to take the positive moments and build on them. If they fail to do that — judging by yesterday’s loss this is a real possibility — New England’s playoff hopes aspirations might disappear much like Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll: overwhelmed by bad habits.